The global pandemic has highlighted serious problems in governance, while deepening inequities in services that should be readily accessible. There is also a clear undercurrent of mental ill-health, brought about by fears of the virus and stark changes in our way of life. These mental health implications cut across all sectors, though leaving some more vulnerable than others such as frontline workers, persons with comorbidities, low-income individuals, the youth, the elderly, those stranded and separated from their families.

We need leaders who listen; they should bolster community efforts, rather than reacting with disdain or intimidation. Organizations have worked tirelessly towards causes: healthcare worker donation drives, combatting media disinformation, the welfare of marginalized communities, worker’s rights, sexual health and reproductive rights, and many more.

Criticism is part of the job and should be taken as calls to do better, rather than assuming expertise by being in a position of power. In crises, there is no time to assert the correctness of vanity projects. We do not have the time of day to put down individuals or organizations doing what they can, much less make these organizers fear for their safety. Constituents and communities are the experts of their own experiences, and they are already telling you what they need.

Moving forward, we need leaders who take a holistic approach to well-being, not putting the onus on individuals for resilience and recovery. Advocacies and donation drives are slowing down as we approach our 17th month in this situation. We still do what we can, but without physical events and resources, I realize that this is limited.

'We need leaders who listen; they should bolster community efforts, rather than reacting with disdain or intimidation.'

A view from the inside: everyone is burnt out. I also see this manifest in my advocate friends, doing volunteer counseling sessions despite buckling at the knees from overwork and personal problems. I am thinking of the well-being of teammates with diagnoses, as well as the constraints of purely online events. Even with the best of intentions, webinars and psychological first aid cannot begin to scrape the surface of salient concerns: job insecurity, hunger, falling behind on class modules.

And I feel this belies a much bigger problem. “Mental health support” and “resilience” have been misunderstood as overly individualized, especially this pandemic. This also ties into the point about listening to your constituents. I’ve learned through my work that constant dialogue with your stakeholders is essential for research and policymaking; not doing so will result in detached programs.

Resilience encompasses community supports, set in place by policies and protections that are sensitive to the people's needs.

For psychological support, we cannot begin to administer specialized services—consultations, first aid, and the like—without first addressing basic needs.

The IASC's guidelines on mental health and psychosocial support underscore service delivery to vulnerable populations before anything, ensuring basic needs are met before specialized services. It shouldn’t have to take severe trauma for a person to have a shot at receiving competent care.

Romanticizing the Filipino people's ability to withstand extraordinary amounts of storm and stress contributes to the problem—at worst, excusing faulty systems because we can smile through them.

Resilience encompasses community supports, set in place by policies and protections that are sensitive to the people's needs. Physical healthcare, food, housing, financing, and workload reduction are of utmost importance, rather than defaulting to congratulatory headlines or required online seminars and calling it a day.

Lastly, we need leaders who understand the holism and intersectionality of mental health. Mental health isn’t simply the absence of mental illness—it’s a part of our general well-being. The Philippine Mental Health Act (RA 11036) underscores everyone’s right to take care of their mental health, defining it as a state of well-being wherein one “realizes one’s own abilities and potentials, copes adequately with the normal stresses of life, displays resilience in the face of extreme life events, works productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a positive contribution to the community.”

Mental health is everybody’s concern, deeply intertwined in securing basic needs and human dignity. The fight for mental health is also the fight for equality, especially for marginalized sectors: the urban and rural poor, indigenous peoples, victims of abuse and calamity, the LGBTQIA+ community, persons with disabilities.

As such, being in dialogue with constituents, especially the most vulnerable of them, can be the only way that leaders can holistically tackle resilience and recovery.

Good mental health is a right, and our leaders must work towards a future where everyone can take care of theirs.

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